Greenpeace protest against nuclear energy, at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Image courtesy Conxa Roda/CC BY-SA 3.0

Nuclear fear: the irrational obstacle to real climate action

By Kerry Emanuel, November 15, 2021

Greenpeace protest against nuclear energy, at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Image courtesy Conxa Roda/CC BY-SA 3.0

Twenty-three minutes into a 41-minute flight from Houston to Dallas, Texas on September 29th, 1959, a turbo-prop engine on the left-hand side of a new Lockheed Electra began to whirl around on its axis, tearing the wing off the aircraft. All onboard were killed. A subsequent investigation established that the powerful engines were subject to a resonant oscillation known as a “whirl mode” and the Electra was re-designed to eliminate it. The new Electra was so strong that it was used in atmospheric research to fly into dangerous windstorms, including hurricanes, but it never regained the confidence of the public and production ceased well before Lockheed had recovered its costs.

Since 1970, deaths per trillion passenger-miles flown have declined from about 3,200 to 40, an 80-fold decrease attributable mostly to improved aircraft technology and air and ground traffic control. Per passenger-mile, flying today carries one-sixtieth the danger of driving and is roughly one-tenth of one percent as dangerous as riding a bicycle. Still, planes occasionally crash, and there are those whose fear of flying leads them to take much more dangerous forms of transportation.

Disclosure Statement No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author. Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.  

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine shows, nuclear threats are real, present, and dangerous

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Victor Gilinsky
Victor Gilinsky
9 months ago

Strange that Professor Emanuel thinks that nuclear plants have more promise for meeting a market test than do batteries. The latest construction project, the Vogtle 3 and 4 plant, is now at nearly $30 billion double the originally projected cost and over five years delayed. He calls for a nuclear “renaissance.” We tried that and it fizzled. “Nuclear waste,” he writes, “can be safely deposited deep in geologically stable bedrock, as is being done in Finland.” Yes, but the actions of the federal government have so undermined public confidence that no state will take it. One reason things are different… Read more »